Jim Krut - Interview with the Helicopter Zombie from Dawn of the Dead
Jim Krut is an actor and producer, known for Deadlands 2: Trapped (2008), The Maladjusted (2013) and The Greenman (2011) but startet as "Helicopter Zombie" in the 1978 George Romero classic "Dawn of the Dead."
- Thank you being our guest today Jim.
- Jim, tell us about how you became the Helicopter Zombie in “Dawn of the Dead”
Very quickly, I did the role because Tom Savini invited me to do the role. That's the quick version. Tom and I had gone to university together in Pittsburgh in the 1960s. We were both studying in the journalism and communications program, but we also enjoyed live theatre. With a few other interested friends, we started our own student-run theatre company at the school. You have to also understand that at that time there was a theatre training program, that the university ran through the Pittsburgh Playhouse. We just wanted to act and do theatre, not study!
After university, both Tom and I entered the U.S. Army and were deployed to Vietnam at the time of the war. He was a combat photographer, and I was a combat medic.
After the military, and a few years of newspaper work, I returned to Pittsburgh. There I encountered Tom, and he said he was working with George Romero on a feature film. He also said he had a great and perfect role for me.
I trusted Tom, so I went to his workshop for the makeup prosthetics, the head castings, and other preparatory steps. Two weeks later, I was on the set at the little Monroeville Airport for my scenes!
- After 42 years ,How does it feel to be a part one of the most known zombie film in history?
It is a blessing and a privilege to be part of the Dawn of the Dead family of actors, crews and production staff. None of us could have imagined that the film would have such "legs." It has been translated into so many languages, and to meet fans from across the globe who know the film intimately is awesome. But what I truly value is the friendships it has created, and the sincerity of those relationships.
- How doe it feels with just one role you have such a worldwide horror fanbase?
It's amazing to be known for my short time in the film, with people asking about the "back story" of my character and how he got there and what work he did. It wouldn't be possible without all of the truly talented actors and crew, and especially the director George Romero. Still, it started for me with Tom Savini asking if I would like to be in the film. It was Tom, who I had worked with in theatre and was friends with for many years, who got me the role. I never auditioned or met George Romero until I was actually on the set at the airport.
I should also mention that I had been working in theatre in Pittsburgh for about seven years, touring the US and even the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, with our small troupe. I had done community theatre and worked on stage in other productions. My favorite role was always Dracula. The thing about Dracula on stage, and in the movies, is that he is really on stage or on screen for a limited time. But there is always his presence hovering over the developing storyline. Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Wolfman and the Mummy were among my favorite film creatures, as was the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Those were my heroes, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Vincent Price, Bela Lugosi. They may have had many screen appearances, but typically one unforgettable role or image. In my younger days, it was my dream to meet those heroes, or to somehow join that circle of memorable characters.
I do not put myself in their league, but just to have a touch of "memorable character" in my own life has been rewarding, humbling and inspirational.
- After “Dawn of the Dead” you are nearly 30 years not acting. What have you done all the years?
Although I didn't get back into film for many years, because I was married and supporting a family with two daughters, I continued to work in local theatre when possible.
I had worked as a newspaper editor on a small weekly paper in Pennsylvania for a few years. Then in the early 1980s I was hired to edit a magazine of nearly 200,000 circulation for the Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association. It was a great opportunity to expand my communications skills, travel the US and learn more about politics.
After seven years there, I was offered a position as communications manager at the largest electric cooperative in Pennsylvania, based in Gettysburg. I worked there nearly 20 years. The work included writing and recording radio commercials, television commercials, and later producing videos. I also did political work in Washington and the state capital, Harrisburg.
With a few other friends, I became part of Gettysburg Stage, an innovative live theatre company. I truly loved the theatre, even with its challenges and struggles. But, after seven years, that theatre adventure came to a close.
Upon retiring in 2009, I had more time on my hands and a continuing interest in movies. I had been doing conventions for almost 20 years, so a number of independent film makers in the area of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, and Virginia asked me to be in their films. I also did a few television roles, including a spot on House of Cards.
- Since 2006 you are back as actor. What brings you back infront of the camera?
My exposure through conventions made more people aware that I was still alive and actively working. Since the conventions were mostly focused on horror films, those were often the types of films in which I was cast.
I should also say that I believe in independent cinema. That's where the new ideas emerge, where people take more chances. That doesn't mean all of them are wonderful or even worth watching. But, there is often so much passion involved in the film-making, just like being in a closely knit band of musicians, that it can be addictive. It's certainly fun to see yourself on the big screen, but it's also an ensemble, a special feeling of togetherness and common purpose, driven by the passion to do the best you can do. Who would not love it!
- You still visit Conventions. How does it feel that fans still like to see you?
Around the year 2000, I did my first horror film convention, in Cleveland, Ohio. It was a Dawn of the Dead reunion. Such a joy to reunite with so many friends, and to meet others who were in the film, who later became good friends. A number of the actors in Dawn of the Dead had also been acting in Pittsburgh. People like David Crawford and David Early and I had worked together on other stage productions. So, even though it was a film reunion, it was also a gathering of stage actor veterans who were long-time friends.
Now, after many conventions, it still delights me when people recognize not just the movie, but my character as the Helicopter Zombie. They introduce me to their children, or spouses, or friends, and take such joy in connecting. It's the same feeling I had meeting Ricou Browning, who played the Creature, in the Creature of the Black Lagoon. It's magic, it's fan-boy, it's just enormous fun!
- On IMDb we can see that you filming "Night of the Living Dead: Genesis". What can you tell us about the film and your role?
I've been in about 25 films. Some films are started and never completed, or not released. At times it can be as simple as not enough funding. Other times, there can be disputes between characters or the director. Or, maybe there can be a loss of interest. There can also be a conflict in the name of the film itself.
I had a role in a film called "Dead iSland," so named because it was a docu-drama shot entirely on iPhones. However, a videogame that came out at the same time the film was to be released had a similar name. The game people claimed the rights to the name and the dispute persisted for years.
In NotLD: Genesis, my role is a police officer tasked with investigating some mysterious deaths. It was a fun role, and there were some great folks to work with. It's an interesting and innovative take on the original concept. It includes some other names from the horror community that you would easily recognize. However, I cannot say why it has not been either completed or released yet. Is it a matter of funding, focus or naming conflicts? I don't really know. I would certainly like to see it completed and released. So would the many people who worked on it. I hope whatever the obstacles remain can be resolved.
- At the last you can say some words to your fans?
Many people have asked me over the years, "When you worked on Dawn of the Dead, did you know it was going to be world famous and a cult classic?"
I would like to say, yes, we all knew that!
But, in truth, even with the best director, best scripts, best actors, camera operators, light and sound crews, and any other advantages, there is never a guarantee of success. The only reason Dawn of the Dead became so famous and so many people made personal connections with it is that the fans enjoyed the movie. They watched it again and again. At midnight showings at local cinemas and drive-in theaters. They bought the VHS tapes, the DVDs of the movie, then the BluRays. Even when there was a re-make of Dawn in 2004, the original 1978 version still remained a classic.
Even as recently as 2019, I was interviewed at the original airport setting for a documentary or special features disk for a new UK remastered 4K release, which should happen later this year. Returning to the "scene of the crime" was hugely exciting for me, as I got to explain from my perspective what took place during the filming at that location. I even picked up a region-free BluRay player in anticipation of that release!
So, without the fans, the love, excitement and passion they feed into us actors and crew, and the adulation they rightfully give to George Romero, Dawn of the Dead might have ended up on a dusty shelf.
I thank those fans, their families and friends, who have allowed us all to share some joy, across oceans and other barriers. The fans have made me, as the Helicopter Zombie, an iconic zombie in a landscape piled high with zombies. I also owe great thanks to Tom Savini for his immeasurable talents, and to George Romero, who made it possible for us all to share an adventure together!
-- JIm Krut